Willa Baum, 1926-2006

An obituary for Oral Historian Willa Baum, written by her son, Brandon. “Her pioneering work in oral history methodology and interview techniques served asjavascript:void(0); the foundation for the establishment and growth of oral history as a unique academic discipline.” She’s the author of two books on Oral history, and Co-editor of an anthology.

Willa loved being involved in oral history, not only because the work was important, but because it allowed her to meet people of the highest caliber and interview them about the events and issues they felt most passionately about.

Through her interviews at ROHO, Willa got to know Earl Warren, Golda Meir, and Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, David Brower and many others. She prided herself on being clever enough to hire a group of top notch women interviewers, each an expert in her field, who “wanted something intelligent to do.”

[…]Willa was also instrumental in establishing oral history as an accepted discipline by working with colleagues from around the country to develop professional standards and methodologies. She was a founding member of the Oral History Association, and although Willa published numerous books and anthologies on the topic of oral history, her 1969 publication titled Oral History for the Local Historical Society, is still considered a fundamental primer on establishing an oral history program.

In her typical self-deprecating style, Willa often remarked that she only wrote the book because she was tired of being asked to give the same speech again and again.

An August, 2004 profile at the California Alumni Association at UC Berkeley—“Reel History” - While California talked, Willa Baum listened. It’s an illuminating account of the Regional Oral History Office at Bancroft Library at Cal Berkeley.

Willa Baum honored at her retirement.

Wow. I didn’t know all that about her. What I knew (until today) is that she wrote some seminal books. One of which I’ve read:  Editing and Transcribing Oral History. It was an old (library) edition, from the days of the IBM selectric and before computer word processing was in wide use. (a subsequent version was published in 1995; I assume there’s more that’s computer-related) It (the first edition) had good insight on oral history and indexing, transcription, but it was itself a glimpse on pre-digital techniques, from the days of white-out before the blinking I-beam cursor.

I’m sure that there will be more comment on her life and work in the Oral History mailing list.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2006 in • Oral HistoriansOral history in the news
2 CommentsPermalink

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hallo!my name’s luca lazzeretti,i came from pistoia,italy.
i’ve read this tragic news just now….i went to willa home, like l.s.i. student, on summer 2002.i’m so sorry;she was really a nice,kind woman,and i will remember she in my heart for ever!
god bless she and all you too!
luca lazzeretti

luca lazzeretti  on 12/10  at  10:00 AM

I felt really shocked when I read the horrible news. I was one of the LSI students that stayed at Willa Baum’s house. It was quite long ago, on the summer of 1995, but I still remember those days as some of the happiest in my life. I will always remember her as an open minded, warm and a full of joy woman. He cared for all the students she hosted, and so we did for her. I had the chance to visit her again in 2000. It was a short visit, barely an hour of conversation over a cup of coffee but again it was a great time.
If any of her relatives read these lines, remember that Willa will always live in the hearts of those who were so fortunate to meet her.
A big hug from Barcelona!

Eusebi Brosa  on 06/07  at  09:17 AM

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